1Lt Jesse James

This story is based on facts and the people in it are completely fictional.  I wrote it from my memories and a little research on the net. It is a work of Faction. There is just enough bones from facts so the story can stand.  the meat on the bones is totally fiction. The story is loosely based on the activities that became known as hamburger Hill 10-20 May 1969.  The only thing not made up was a few of the unit designations.  I hope this story does not in any way do anything to dishonor those that served with me.  Vietnam has been over for almost 40 years now and it is only a memory to me. 

This story is dedicated to my wife, my family and all those that served in a War that made little sense to so many.  How an Army could win all the battles and then have their country lose the war is hard for the soldiers to understand.  Clearly the people were fed up and we were forced to withdraw from a war we fought for the wrong reasons in the wrong place.  

If a little profanity offends you, the middle of this story will make you really pissed off.  It is entirely fantasy and it is a compilation of some facts and things that kinda remember from my time in the Nam.  I love Soldiers and am damn proud to have been one.  Saddle up bucko and here goes.....

Hello There, My name is Johnny Cash.  If you believe that, you have been reading too many of those books where the stories start out "Once Upon a Time!"   Speaking about that, do you know the difference between a war story and a fairytale?  War Stories start out with "Hey, this is no shit..." I am 1st Lieutenant Jesse Robert  James and I am an the Executive Officer of an Infantry Company in the 101st Airborn also called the Screaming Eagles.  We are also known as the 501st Division and here I am in Bravo Company of the 3rd Herd (battalion) of the 187th Infantry.    When I listened to the guys talk about being the Iron Rakkasans, I wondered what the hell that meant.  Somewhere they were called that after someone saw their parachutes and said they looked like falling down umbrellas.  That's the official story and I'm sticking to it because I don't really know any better.  I just made 1st Lieutenant and because i am the senior Lieutenant in the Company, I am on the roster as the Executive Officer or XO.  Most of the other XOs spend most of their time in the rear area hustling beans and bullets but because I am the only lieutenant in with the  Company right now, the First Sergeant will take care of that duty.  

I am here of my own free will and volition and have no one to blame but myself.  I knew that Jump school after Infantry OCS would probably get me assigned to the eagles or the 173rd.  I haven't even seen a parachute let alone jumped since I got to Vietnam. We all draw jump pay but that's all smoke and mirrors not a reality.  I have been here for just over six months and have been here about twice as long as my Battalion or Company Commander.   They both arrives right after I got back from my R&R in Australia.  The guys kid me a lot about it being called F&F.  Instead of being rest and recreation is should be called Fun and Fornication.  (I cleaned up that last word from an active verb to one more passive.)

We are sitting here in a base camp waiting for the final word on the Operation Apache Snow.  They think we need to get out into the Au Shau Valley and do some Reconnaissance in Force or see if we can stir up some shit.  Things have been a little dull with us just guarding hamlets and bridges so those rear Echelon Mother Fuckers (REMFs) looked at the map and tried to figure out where there might be some gooks. There are a lot of people that are wanting us to really find the enemy but I am not as sure that we as a company are as ready as they do.  Some of these guys have gotten soft and need to get up off their butts but when and where is the question.  I would have liked to have about a week to get them ready but here we sit just getting ready. 

We were pulled back together here at Camp eagle and there was even a Bull Shit Inspection in ranks done by the Division and Brigade XOs.  We did get a welcome influx of new equipment and clean and newer uniforms but I have never since I left Fort Benning seen such a display of pure Bullshit and Bravado.  I was glad to get a chance to visit the shower point, get a haircut and we even has a John Wayne movie.  There was also a chance to get a couple of hot meals but you might think that somewhere in this man's Army they could produce a glass of milk that didn't taste slightly of a fermented coconut.  Yes, like I said, I have no one but myself to blame so what the hell.  I knew then and I know now that my missions is to meet and greet the enemy at the forward edge of the battlefield and kill him.  Everything else is extra.

I did get one good piece of good news yesterday.  We won't be the first Company into the Landing Zone (LZ) out there in the Valley.  It will be a more administrative lift and its not like we would have prepared for a hot LZ or were the first one's in.  My Platoon would normally be the first ones in and I would reinforce it with several machine guns from the other platoons.  Our 60mm mortars and the men for the Heavy Weapons Platoon had been taken to battalion along with that Platoon leader.  He was now the battalion Recon Officer and better him than me.  Most landings into a field LZ would be prepped by Artillery, Bombs and we would have a platoon of gunships with us as we went in.  For this trip we would simply have my platoon followed by the second platoon and the headquarters element followed by the third Platoon.  There was a fourth platoon on paper but no one was assigned there.  

CAPT Sawyer had been over to Battalion headquarters and heard the briefing there and got a hard copy of the Operations  Order (OPORD).  It must be some big deal because normally we would just get a Fragmentary  Order (Fragord or FRAG) to get ready to move and another telling us where we were going.  I can't criticize CAPT Sawyer's briefing as I have nothing to compare it to.  It is funny that even though we saw a lot of five paragraph orders in training, we all know now that the damn things are not worth a damn once the first bullet flies.  In simple terms we are going to go in and shoot anyone that shoots at us.  The Au Shau valley is thought to be one of the main resupply routes for the North Vietnamese Army.  For all practical purposes, the Viet Cong had really been shot out of existence during TET of 68 and now most of the troops were hard core well armed soldiers that had walked down the Ho Chi min Trail from the north.  The Au Shaw valley is typical jungle with triple canopy.  That is a layer of vines and shit on the bottom. a set of tree tops about 50 feet off the ground and a set of tree tops way the hell up and gone with vines and more shit growing in it.  During the middle of the day, it was kind of like being in a small sauna.  No air moved to speak of and the rotten smell from the forest floor was like being in a green house where there was a lot of compost.   It was kinda like you were wearing sunglasses during the day and pitch black at night.  It was the kind of black that sucks the light out of your flashlight and you don't see shit without one.

Huey's ready to load for an airlift

We were told that the valley floor was fairly typical but there would be stretches where  the Air Force had sent a team of C-130s that would fly over and spray a defoliant called Agent Orange.  No one in the Army knew what that shit was but it killed the jungle and all the leaves would fall off in less than a week.  Bad Shit Sherlock.  For our Landing Zone, the engineers would come in with chain saws and cut the trees down and very soon there would be a hole in the jungle where you could land a flight of up to 10 Huey's and then still have room around the edge to get out of the rotor blast.  The other advantage of such a position was that the logs the engineers cut down were just the thing to let a headquarters element build their bunkers.  The Companies would just move out into the jungle and dig holes where they stopped at night.  Sometimes they built overhead cover and sometimes they didn't.  As much as the guys hated me for enforcing that rule, they respected me because after the first mortar attack we didn't have anyone killed.


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